From behind a desk with a newspaper in hand or a computer monitor before you, it's easy to sit in judgment of what's going on in the Andersen/Enron debacle, as so many of us have done during the past several months.
We've heard from government regulators, congressional people, lawyers, analysts, and a slew of other folks on the alleged wrongdoing that led to the energy giant's demise, each with their own ideas for reforming the audit system and punishing the offenders -- if they are in fact, found guilty. And, it sure looks as though there is plenty of blame to go around.
But now suppose that you work at Andersen in an office 3,000 miles away from Enron or Andersen's Houston office? And suppose you've devoted years, perhaps decades, to your job. And suppose finally, that you don't even work in audit. Your job may be in jeopardy, anyway, because of the Department of Justice's criminal indictment.
I stood in front of 1345 Avenue of the Americas Tuesday afternoon in the rain, watching a throng of orange-clad Andersen employees rallying in front of the firm's New York City office, where some 2,300 Andersen employees work everyday.
One Andersen partner at the rally, with an Andersen T-shirt draped over his suit, summarized it pretty well when he said, "The people at Enron and the people who are involved in this at the firm are 3,000 miles away from us and they had nothing to do with the people in this office, who are getting hurt unfairly."
The cold, wet weather couldn't dampen the spirits of the employees and other Andersen supporters -- many of them relatives or friends of Andersen employees -- who cheered and hollered, signs in hand, as their colleagues declared "I am Andersen" and spoke in support of their troubled employer.
Now, I'm not looking to start a pity party for the firm, and reforms are certainly needed, but as the Andersen chants grew louder, I couldn't help but wonder at the logic of jeopardizing thousands of jobs -- about 28,000 -- to make an example of a few.
And if Andersen does fall apart, what good will 28,000 unemployed Andersen workers do for the thousands of Enron employees who lost their jobs and life's savings?
I'm sure that there are people at the DOJ, and others who believe the indictment of the entire firm was the right way to go. They may have a different perspective from the people I saw in the street yesterday. It depends on where you're standing.
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